Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cracking the Line

Today we are honored to have a guest post from regular reader and contributor, Mr. Bustamante, who discusses the role of guided missile submarines in A2/AD scenarios.  You may recall his previous post, "Myth of the Unopposed Landing".  Read and enjoy!

Cracking the Line

The Case for Guided Missile Submarines in Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) Scenarios

“But things have changed… the resurgence of Russia and the ascendance of China, both of which are producing numerous submarines, and in particular in Russia’s part, extremely capable submarines… we’re facing challenges of both quantity and quality from our competitors (1).

- Rear Admiral Michael Jabaley

War is a numbers game, even the peacetime deployments obey the rules of math; the challenge is that our submarine force numbers are inadequate and will further decline to approximately 41 boats by 2029 (2).  Projected wartime demands of submarine force call for approximately 35 operationally ready SSNs, in turn requiring 48 boats simply to ensure that 35 will be available (3).  Exacerbating the numerical shortfall is the proliferation of sophisticated anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) defenses, which present a lethal zone of land based maritime strike (aircraft, cruise, and ballistic missiles), sophisticated air defenses, and mines.  These A2/AD defenses can extend from 1,000 to 1,500nm offshore and the most viable naval counter is the submarine launched cruise missile.  However, our navy also faces loss of submarine cruise missile delivery capacity due to the retirement of the four Ohio-class guided missile submarines (SSGNs) without replacement (4).  It is worth noting that our submarines are expected to shoulder the high priority ASW mission, and also enable USAF bomber and naval strikes with cruise and missile strikes to defeat sophisticated anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) defenses.  Nor does this represent the full scope of submarine missions (5). 

There are several potential solutions if we desire a larger submarine force:

1.  Build more submarines.  Current shipyard capacity appears to be limited to at most three nuclear-powered submarines a year.  Even if budgets permit; there are only two shipyards in the country capable of building nuclear-powered ships and it is unlikely that construction rates can be increased without significant capitol infrastructure investment (6).  Nuclear submarine production capacity is also constrained by the requirement to build replacement SSBNs for our strategic forces to replace the aging Ohio class, as well as nuclear powered aircraft carriers.  Finally, a new construction SSGN, while highly desirable, is likely to be secondary in priority to the replacement SSBNs, 12 of which will be built before any new construction could start.

2.  Service Life Extension (SLEP) existing SSNs, if possible.  This alternative is a huge unknown and will require analysis of each SSN to determine the engineering and economic feasibility.

3.  Augment our SSN force with advanced Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines (SSKs) converted into SSGs by installing a hull section with at least 12 (or more) vertically launched missile cells (VLS) to address the land attack mission (7).  This could be done by purchasing the building rights (or outright buy) submarines from our allies.  

To be clear, the SSG is not a replacement for the SSN.  Furthermore, the U.S. should build SSNs at maximum shipyard capacity for the foreseeable future.  SSNs retain vital endurance and high submerged speed operational capabilities vital for open ocean operations.  These advantages allowed, diesel electric SSKs have always been the stealthiest of submarines within the constraints of battery power, making them highly survivable.  Modern SSKs have maximum submerged speeds exceeding 20 knots, and the ability to travel very long distances using fuel efficient diesels.  With the advent of Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP), SSKs now possess optimal survivability, submerged endurance, and speed to penetrate sophisticated anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) defenses owing to the research going into AIP technologies including: fuel cells, Stirling cycle engines, and Module d'Energie Sous-Marine Autonome (MESMA) (8).  Table 1. Follows and includes pertinent open source information comparing a modern SSN with competing SSKs:

Table 1. Submarine Characteristics Compared

Source: survey of current defense literature.

Further points in favor of the SSG are a comparatively low procurement cost of ~$600 million per boat (before installation of a Vertical Launch System), and reduced manning roughly 33% to 50% of the SSN crew requirements. Critically, AIP submarines can be massed produced: ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH (Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH) claimed to have nine submarines under construction or being upgraded at its Kiel facility, a vital capability in war (9).

Penetrating an A2/AD defense to launch strikes will require that our SSG get to a firing position within 750 nautical miles or so of an enemy coast.  We must assume that AIP propulsion must be used within the A2/AD zone, as a snorkeling SSK is vulnerable to detection and destruction by Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA); this will reduce submerged transit speeds to 6-8 knots.  At 6.5 knots, a modern AIP submarine can travel about 156 nautical miles submerged each day, so it will take five days for an SSG to travel from a position outside a 1,500 nautical mile A2/AD zone to a cruise missile launch point within 750 nautical miles of the coast (10). 

In the end, the argument in favor of the SSG is not about optimum capability, but instead on procuring sufficient numbers of viable boats to round out the submarine force in the strike warfare mission.  Further improvements in batteries and AIP seem likely to improve the capability of submarines.  The AIP equipped submarine, operated by many potential adversaries, also makes an incredibly useful training asset for our navy to train against. Configured with VLS, the SSG is now an absolutely credible solution for strike warfare (land attack), commerce raiding, offensive mining, and ASW. 


(1)Congressional Research Service report RL32418, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2016, by Ronald O'Rourke, pg. 14.

(2)“The Navy’s FY2017 30-year SSN procurement plan, if implemented, would not be sufficient to maintain a force of 48 SSNs consistently over the long run.  The Navy projects under that plan the SSN force would fall below 48 boats starting in FY2025, reach a minimum of 41 boats in FY2029, and remain below 48 boats through FY2036.” Congressional Research Service report RL32418, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2016, by Ronald O'Rourke, summary page. 

(3)“The peak projected wartime demand of about 35 SSNs deployed within a certain amount of time … is an internal Navy figure that reflects several studies of potential wartime requirements for SSNs.”  Congressional Research Service report RL32418, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2016, by Ronald O'Rourke, pg. 11.

(4)“From FY2026 through FY2028 the Navy will retire its four Ohio-class guided missile submarines (SSGNs).  Each SSGN can carry a maximum of 154 vertically launched BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles per boat, seven (7) Tomahawk cruise missiles in 22 large-diameter vertical launch tubes (two (2) of the 24 tubes cannot carry the missiles).  The four SSGNs can carry a combined total of 616 vertically launched Tomahawks.  The navy plan is to build Twenty-two Virginia-class boats built with Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) to carry a combined total of 616 Tomahawk missiles.  This plan better distributes the cruise missile across the submarine force, but these same submarines will have many competing tasking’s and the impact of VPM on operational characteristics of SSNs cannot be stated due to classification.”

(5)Additional missions include: Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); offensive and defensive mine warfare; anti-submarine warfare (ASW); and anti-surface ship warfare.

(6)Virginia-class boats are built jointly by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division of Groton, CT, and Quonset Point, RI, and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding, of Newport News, VA.

(7)For comparison, the SSN 688 and 774 class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) employ a 12-cell VLS for Tomahawk missiles.  Additionally, the Navy is planning to add Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) to the SSN 774 block 5 SSNs - the additional launch tubes in the VPM could carry a total of 28 additional Tomahawk cruise missiles (7 per VPM), which would increase the total number of torpedo-sized weapons (such as Tomahawks) from 37 to about 65.

(8)Manufacturer claims must be taken with great skepticism, but German, Japanese, and Swedish firms are now claiming submerged endurances exceeding 10 days at sustained submerged speeds in excess of 6.5 knots using Air-Independent Propulsion!

(9)‘Why German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems wants Australia’s Future Submarines contract’, by Ian McPhedran May 21, 2015.

(10)This figure is somewhat arbitrary and it is based upon a cruise missile with approximately 1,000 nm range (e.g. the UGM-109 Tomahawk variants).  The 750 nm, allows for deep inland strikes.  Wayne Hughes, Capitan USN (RET) presents additional tactical scenarios in his book: “Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat.”  Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has also written numerous papers with useful scenarios.


Mr. Bustamante is a retired naval officer who served the majority of his career as a Naval Special Warfare Officer and also served as a Surface Warfare Officer and Foreign Area Officer.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in Systems Engineering.  He also holds a Master of Science degree in Defense Analysis (Operations Research) from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. After retiring from the Navy, Mr. Bustamante worked for the legislative branch as an auditor and analyst, as a civil servant with the United States Department of State, and also in the private sector as an analyst in information technology project management.


  1. Very nice. It's good to see articles that actually have sources.

    The idea of SSK's for this purpose is intriguing. The counter is that they represent a single purpose class of vessels. What will they be doing during peacetime? It is unclear if they are capable of doing the types of long patrols the US Navy is known for. Waiting in distributed ports to surge is definitely the wrong public relations answer.

    Personally, I like the single use philosophy. A thing is designed to do one task and it does it extremely well. Generally costs are controlled and it is easy to have a concise design plan that isn't subject to mission bloat and capability creep.

    A good example of this thinking was the F-14 Tomcat. It was a superb long range interceptor. Its armament was designed to shootdown large aircraft hundreds of miles away from the carrier. Every other mission was secondary. A second example is the A-10.

    At the other end of the spectrum, well, there's just too many to list....

    Since the '60s there seems to have been a consolidation of individual types into a few multipurpose platforms that are good to decent at a multitude of missions but not optimal for anything. Has the pentagon realized any real benefits of supporting fewer platforms vs the alternative? Budgets and procurement times have ballooned.

    This whole debate brings me back to my childhood when my father would take me to see the Thunderbirds perform once a year in Texas. They flew the F-16 at my first show back in the early 80's. They still fly the F-16 some 30 years later. Before the F-16 they flew 8 different planes from 1953-1981, each an upgrade over the last (except the Talon).

    1. Thanks for mentioning that - I haven't lived in Texas since I was a kid (except for USAF basic) but I bet we went to the same air shows. Wonderful memories and very different to the stuff they do today.


  2. The shorter endurance could be made up for by forward basing, and being non-nuclear would raise less objections from foreign port. In fact, if we went with the same basic design as allies this would not only make getting supplies overseas easier but better coordination between ourselves and allies as we would all understand their capabilities. It would also make China think twice if they try to bully the boat of allied nation using a diesel sub as they have to worry that it might be ours instead of a Filipino or Japanese vessel.
    We could also put some these under the Naval Reserve rather than active duty. Thus reducing costs further.
    One unique option we might think of is to take a page from the past; the NR-1, the small scale nuclear research sub decommissioned in 2008. Too Small in it's orignal form (45m long--without proper kitchen or hygene facilities) but it's tiny reactor would be what we wanted: it would use less nuclear fuel (a rather expensive part of an SSN) than full SSN and be even more silent (albeit with a slow speed). Placed in a stretched SSG, you would use the diesel for moving at speed, with the reactor powering secondary systems, then batteries+reactor for silent running to the target then AIP+reactor for fast exfiltration that is still relatively quiet.

  3. I thought the main difference between the SSK's and SSN's in sound was the reactor noises you can't get away from.

    Still, its an interesting idea. The cost might be prohibitive though.

  4. How hard is it to build an SSK? Do we have the technicians?

    My understanding is that one of the hard limitations we run into for our SSN's are things like the number of people who can do quality welds for the hull. It would seem that this would be true for SSK's too.

    I'm not saying its not worth doing. I think it very much is. But to build them here we might have to start a process of educating a workforce to be able to build them. (Overall, I think that would just be to the good).

    In the short term, we could flat out buy a bunch of subs. The price differential, even if you include the VLS, is stunning.

    1. That depends on how big an SSK you want. You could be looking at any where from $200 million USD to a near nuclear submarine prices (a couple of billion).

      They are generally easier in that they don't have an expensive nuclear reactor (very high construction costs, a mid-life refueling, and then costly decommission costs).

      Overall in most cases, you could build several diesels per nuclear submarine.

  5. I'm sorry...Why a $2.6B (or $0.6B) undersea plane, carrying 12 cruise missiles, doing 10-40 mph and very difficult to reload, when $0.1B B-52 can do a lot more from the same safe distance shooting at fixed (or moving) land/surface targets?

    1. Triad. You can't kill what you can't see.

    2. Tim,

      maybe my ranges are incorrect. But the Sub isn't shooting from a 'safe distance'. Its shooting from within the A2/AD.

      I like the B-52 (I'd love to see them re-engined as well as get the smart bomb capable bomb bay) and the Bone. But even our long range stand off weapons likely put them within the A2/AD.

  6. You can fit 35 cruise missiles in a Navy C-40 (737 cargo variant) or twice that in a 747. A 737 costs around $200 million, would require a crew of just a dozen, and can move 50 times faster, and move cargo during peacetime.

    1. The KC-46A and P-8 programs demonstrate that major modifications to commercial aircraft can be extremely expensive, and not necessarily deliver the performance we expect.

      I would prefer to see commercial aircraft modified so they can be pressed into service as effective military transport aircraft.


    2. Thats a good point, GAB. In fact I remember reading that we have an agreement with most US based airlines, to be able to use their planes when required, during war. I can't remember the source, so the truthfulness of my statement should be taken with grain of salt. Ill try to find the reference thou.

    3. And we should be thinking of 'both and' not 'either/or'. One thing I've never understood about some of the airforce folks I've spoken with is that they seem to view every other weapons system as an insult to their jets.

      The Subs will help the Air force, and the air force will help the surface navy.... I don't see that either can do the job as well by itself.

  7. Submarines should be considered a compliment to bombers with ALCMs, and potentially ALBMs e.g. GAM-87 Skybolt (conventional warhead) in the same way a boxer uses different punches to subdue their opponent.

    It is not an either or solution.

    Submarines also have numerous, highly useful capabilities beyond missile strikes: ASW, commerce raiding, and offensive mine warfare are the most critical.


  8. I'm pretty sure I've posted it in a previous comments section, but given that we can do aerial refueling at thousands of feet at hundreds of miles per hour, shouldn't we be able to develop an underwater charging ability to allow a nuclear sub to charge a conventional sub's batteries? It could also provide oxygen that it's generated.

    Randall Rapp

    1. Now that is outside of the box thinking!!

    2. I read an article from 2008 that they had fitted a sub to do just that for Pacific operations and tested it with SK subs. I haven't found a single reference since then, but yes, a very good idea.

      I wonder how well that worked.

    3. Randall, that's a fascinating idea. My only question is what scenario would it be used in? If the immediate area is non-threatening, the SK could charge its own batteries. If the immediate area is threatening, trying to do a recharge would probably be fatal. Also, why would a nuclear sub be operating in the same area as an SK? Either the nuke might as well do the SK's job or we're wasting two subs to do one sub's job.

      Does this make sense?

    4. Didnt the use of AIP solve this problem . On an electro-mechanical level, what they do is charge batteries to enable a longer quiet low speed endurance. The refueling concept was discredited during WW2 as the allies using their communications to catch them together, a weak spot .

    5. Maybe we just discovered the REAL mission for the LCS sinces its no good at anything else. Its an uparmed sub tender.

    6. If nothing else, it would be useful for increasing the Strategic mobility of the SSK, allowing them to make a higher speed submerged transit to the battle area without expending their onboard fuel supply in route. I see 3 or 4 SSKs operating with a single SSN. The SSN would maintain a secure area at the edge of the conflict after arrival providing rest and recharge for the SSKs.

  9. Unrelated news about Ford carrier, looks like more confirmation that it will not be very good at being a carrier....

  10. "(8)Manufacturer claims must be taken with great skepticism, but German, Japanese, and Swedish firms are now claiming submerged endurances exceeding 10 days at sustained submerged speeds in excess of 6.5 knots using Air-Independent Propulsion!"

    The problem is you need to be permanently submerged.
    You need to submerge in a concrete roofed sub pen, and you need to stay that way until you return, otherwise you are spotted, and even then, you will eventually be spotted.

    The speed above sounds good, but even a direct route there and back is only 900 miles.

    Once detected, it takes weeks to break contact with a competent hunter, an AIP would have 10 days to break contact, and do whatever it wanted to before it had to surface again and confirm its location.

    10 days and 6.5knts arent bad for The Baltic, but its laughable for offensive action across the Pacific, or Atlantic, even the Med.

    1. "Once detected, it takes weeks to break contact with a competent hunter,"

      That doesn't square with any ASW exercise report I've ever read. Even within the confined, known area of an ASW exercise it's proven very, very difficult to find and track a non-nuke sub (or nuke sub, for that matter) for more than a very brief time. Subs seem to have little difficulty breaking contact!

    2. Trying breaking contact with this: DARPA ACTUV

    3. "10 days and 6.5knts arent bad for The Baltic, but its laughable for offensive action across the Pacific, or Atlantic, even the Med."


      You are confusing submerged range penetrating the A2/AD zone, with overall endurance.

      Right now a German type 212 has longer range than any non-nuclear USN combatant.


    4. "You are confusing submerged range penetrating the A2/AD zone, with overall endurance."

      Nope, I'm just discounting one as irrelevant.

      "That doesn't square with any ASW exercise report I've ever read. Even within the confined, known area of an ASW exercise it's proven very, very difficult to find and track"

      Depends on the specifics I suppose.
      A proper ASW frigate with towed array and helicopter, once its positively got you, isnt going to lose you easily.
      A less capable ship, with a hull mounted sonar, will be a lot easier to lose, once you get out of its LoS, it will really struggle to find you again.

      The difficulty is that initial "finding", phase, once you have positively identified it, its much easier to keep track of it.

      None nuclear subs have a massive weakness, in that they are forced to surface at regular intervals, allowing for an easy positive ID.

    5. "Nope, I'm just discounting one as irrelevant."


      Obviously you discount any possibility of surface ship employment too; not to mention the extreme level of resources necessary to maintain the surveillance level you posit (without satellites).

      The North Sea, Arctic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf/NAS are all operation areas suited for an SSK.

      Finally: the statement: " You need to submerge in a concrete roofed sub pen..." is fantasy.


    6. "Obviously you discount any possibility of surface ship employment too;"
      Surface ships are faster and can shoot back.
      Submarines only defence is stealth, and SSKs do not have that at all.

      "Finally: the statement: " You need to submerge in a concrete roofed sub pen..." is fantasy."
      So SSBNs announce to the world there departure and arrival?
      Because I'm pretty sure they depart under water and remain submerged until they have ported.

    7. "So SSBNs announce to the world there departure and arrival?"

      Well, yeah. At least in the US, SSBN departures are arrivals are well publicized and well celebrated. The subs don't submerge until out to sea in sufficiently deep water. Families often line the shore to see the subs off. We document arrivals and departures on Facebook, journals, blogs, etc.

      It doesn't matter if another country knows when they come and go. It only matters whether they can find and track them at sea and, if the Navy is to be believed, they can't.

  11. I've posted before is that I think we need more of a high/low "mix" approach to stretch out our dollars. Zumwalt did this in the early 70s and got the Knox and Perry classes out of it, both of which were panned in some quarters but proved ultimately to have value, certainly more so than the far more expensive LCSs seem able to deliver.

    For subs I'd propose a 3-level model.

    Have 30 Virginias (using that as code for whatever our most advanced design might be at any point).
    Build 30 smaller but technologically advanced SSNs along the lines of the French Rubis or DARPA Tango Bravo proposal. They would have the same or similarly capable sensors but carry fewer reloads. Being smaller, they could potentially be quieter and harder to detect than even the Virginias.
    This should give you 60 hulls for about the cost to build and operate 48 Virginias.
    Supplement this with 30 AIP SSGKs. These could be primarily reserve ships in peacetime, cutting O&M costs. They would be extremely useful for training surface ASW forces at a lower cost, and particularly lower opportunity cost, than tying up SSNs.

    As to TrT's comments, the Swedes sent one of their AIP subs over to train with Pac Fleet, and they had a devil of a time finding it. That may be more a commentary on the sorry state of our ASW capability, but in that case that training mission becomes a lot more important. And there's no reason to believe that the other guys' ASW capabilities are significantly better than ours, almost certainly not at the level to write the death warrant for AIP subs that you describe. In theory, perhaps, but not in realty.

    1. We already have Virginias so no problem there.

      I'm with you about some non-nuke subs.

      I'm not seeing the value of a mid-size nuclear sub, though. You lose a lot of capability for a modest gain in cost savings.

      The Rubis class was a failure due to excessive noise and had to undergo an extensive sound reduction program. I don't know how successful that was. Canada looked at purchasing Rubis subs back in the mid-1980's or so and abandoned it due to cost. It's kind of like the carrier size question. Every study that looks at smaller carriers winds up concluding that large carriers are a better value than smaller carriers.

      The Tango Bravo project was big in 2005-2007 and then seems to have vanished. The project's goal of half the size and half the cost was a great sound bite but extremely unlikely. The individual components were worth investigating but the overall cost or space savings were highly suspect. For example, external torpedoes don't actually save much (or any?) space. They just change the location. You still need the same size tubes, launch equipment, etc. and you lose any ability to reload or service the weapons.

      So, yes on hi, yes on lo, but you need to find some data to back up the mid and you need to articulate scenarios in which a mid-size sub is effective but a non-nuke or Virginia would not be.

    2. I don't think there are necessarily any events where a mid-size nuke would be effective but a Virginia or non-nuke would not be, but I don't think that is or should be the decision standard. I think there are any cases where a small nuke would be good enough for the mission, and the Virginia by contrast is overkill for the job required. For example, ASW escort for a surface task group needs all the sensors, but the existence of assets on the surface means you have weapons alternatives and therefore may not need the reloads.

      I'm well aware of the Rubis noise problems, and was mentioning it only in terms of a concept. I think we already have the ability to overcome those problems, particularly with a smaller reactor. I wouldn't build a Rubis, but would consider the concept. I'm thinking more 2/3 the size and cost, which I think is doable. I'm not at all suggesting external torpedoes or some of the other frankly goofy options that got into the Tango Bravo conversation.

      I'm just trying to figure out if there is any way to leverage the numbers. The Knoxes and Perrys came out pretty lowly regarded, but once they got to the fleet we figured out how to use them effectively. Yes you give up capability for cost savings. But there are places where all that capability is overkill. And that's where I think the navy gets into trouble, by insisting that every unit have capabilities that not every unit needs.

      I think there are any number of missions where a smaller nuke would work just fine. To be sure, some where it wouldn't. Don't use it for those.

    3. Hi-Lo is a bit meh for me.

      The UKs new submarines are 50% larger than their predecessors, the increased size was dictated by the cost saving measure, of sharing a reactor with the Vanguard replacements.

      Building something thats cheaper to operate is easy, building something thats so much cheaper to operate than the Hi, thats its cost effective to design and build, whilst still being useful, is quite the challenge.

  12. I like conventional powered submarines too. From the beginning of the Cold War to about mid-60's, conventional sub performed many special missions. And, with the right equipment, could do so again.

    But, if the purpose is to launch a heavy cruise missile attack, we would need several subs or more, to coordinate their attack.

    I think an option to consider is converting an EPF transport into a special weapons platform using the 4-round cruise missile launchers that were used on the Iowa-class. The EPF's have a fairly large helicopter pad where one could place a dozen or so launchers. Another dozen or more could be stored internally.

    The EPF's are fairly small, but fast, and require a small crew to operate. With enough supplies they could perform a 60-day patrol.

    1. For throwing out a wild idea, this is fine.

      For throwing out a serious idea, it needs some work, research, and thought from you. Essentially, this is a mini version of the arsenal ship concept.

      The vessel is lightly built and non-survivable (not necessarily a bad thing) which risks a fair number of limited missiles being lost to a single hit.

      The vessel has no sensor capable of finding its own targets. Again, not necessarily a deal breaker if it is to be used against known, fixed targets.

      I suspect you're severely overestimating the available room. Every cell/launcher that penetrates the deck is displacing something. You need to check and see what's under those locations you suggest.

      These vessels are far from stealthy which, again, goes back to survivability. How will they penetrate to launch range without being seen and destroyed?

      These vessels were designed with limited endurance. You suggest "with enough supplies" but every additional food storage compartment, fresh water tank, refrigerated storage, additional galley space, etc. means less internal volume for weapons (refer back to deck penetrations and internal volume issue).

      Would the ships require a Burke escort or would they operate alone (back to detectability and survivability)?

      So, if you're serious about this idea, do a bit of work and come back and tell us what you find.

    2. I gave it some more thought.

      The Mk 143/Mk 44 Armored box launcher weighs 26,000 kilograms (I assumed it's the loaded weight) and are 7.06 meters long and 2.13 meters wide and 2.03 meters high, according to Jane's.

      The EPF is sized to operate and MH-53E helicopter which has a maximum takeoff weight of 33,300 kilograms with a 30 x 24 meter foot print.

      Let's assume (and I know what happens when you do) the EPF's flight deck can safely handle 3.5 times the maximum takeoff weight of a MH-53E. That would allow placing 4 Armored Box Launchers on the helipad.

      The EPF has a 20,000 square foot mission bay and is designed to carry 600 short tons. So, space for reloads and supplies for an extended mission are not limitations. But, perhaps there are limitations in its mechanical systems that would limit her time at sea. I don't know.

      She can go at top speed (43 knots) at conditions not exceed sea state 3 and 15 knots at sea state 4. Which would be a limitation and possibly it's greatest drawback.

      I don't think sensors are an issue since submarines lack the same sensors to acquire targets at long ranges too.

      I could see a ship like this operating under the umbrella of a Burke destroyer, but at some distance away. Or, maybe it operates at a "fail safe" position (like bombers used to do) under protection of sea or land based aircraft and then moves into its firing position when ordered.

      A few years ago, Huntington Ingalls proposed a arsenal ship based on the LPD-17 class that would carry 288 VLS cells. I think there is some utility in a smaller arsenal ship carrying 60-80 cruise missiles since they could be built cheaper and faster and allow for more ships to be at sea at any given time.

    3. Good start!

      I don't believe the Mk 143 ABL can be reloaded at sea.

      Would these vessels have any AAW capability and, if so, what and where?

      Given that the ships are non-stealthy, how do they survive to penetrate to their launch points?

    4. I note that Wiki lists a max takeoff weight for MH-53E as 21,000 kg. What source did you get 33,300 kg from?

    5. I used Wikipedia for the weight.

      As for your other points, like the Mk 41 VLS, the Mk 143 ABL isn't reload able at sea. But, I can't imagine modylifying them to be reloadable would be that difficult to do. The launcher is horizontal to the deck, so it doesn't have the difficulty of dangling a cannister with a crane to reload a VLS cell. You would need some handling equipment, but that should not be a problem. Ideally, you would have an all up round and replace them as needed.

      I wouldn't add AAW sensors or weapons, but I would consider adding one to two CWIS on a transportable platform like C-RAM. Weight permitting of course.

      While they are non-stealthy, they are small and fast, under the right sea conditions.

      I would keep them 800 to 900 miles off shore and use them to strike targets close to shore. I would use submarines, which can get much closer, to strike targets further inland. If conditions permit, base them seaward of a carrier strike group to provide them some protection from aircraft.

    6. Let's sum up where the conceptual design is at.

      - 16 Tomahawks in 4x4 armored box launchers
      - no flight deck and no helo
      - non-stealthy, easily detected
      - no AAW capability beyond 1-2 CIWS
      - limited sea keeping; DOT&E noted that JHSV was severely impacted by inclement weather

      Reloads (for sake of discussion, let's say we could come up with a mechanism) would require magazines, weapons elevators of some sort, and some type of crane/rails system to maneuver them into place. We'll set aside the space requirements - meaning that we need free space at least equal to the length of the launcher either in front of or behind the launcher to conduct the reload - that's going to markedly impact our placement and, possibly, number of launchers.

      So, the question is whether the ability to launch a salvo of 16 missiles warrants the construction, cost, manning, and extreme risk of such a modified JHSV? Remember that reloads, if feasible, will be very time consuming unless you also envision some sort of automated below deck reload system which would drastically eat into the available space and weight margins and, frankly, begins to move into the pure fantasy realm!

      So, is all that worth it for 16 missiles?

    7. By the way, I get these kinds of emails from readers all the time. Someone wants to put a 16" battleship gun on an LCS because they see that there is enough deck space available. They don't consider weight margins, stability, magazine volume, hull structural strength, and a hundred other factors, each of which render the concept completely invalid.

      Recall your original pass at this which envisioned a dozen or so launchers (48 missiles) with an equal amount instantly ready in some sort of storage area. Compare that to where the concept is now after we've applied just a tiny bit of actual engineering thought.

      I'm not belittling your concept, at all, but you can, hopefully, see how the physical and engineering realities begin to quickly limit the more fanciful concepts. I invited you to go through this exercise because it's instructive to all of us.

    8. Even with what we've discussed, there are still constraints to your concept that we've glossed over. The ample provisions hand-wave, for example, is a lot more limiting than you initially suggested. Simply having space is not good enough. Unless the crew is going to eat nothing but MRE's for the entire deployment, we'll need greatly expanded foor storage, cold storage, water storage, galley space, etc.

      The extra weapons will require additional crew to operate and maintain them. Those added crew members will need added berthing space, showers, heads, laundry, mess space, etc.

      The added weapons will need more electricity which likely means more or bigger power generating motors which, again, means a few more crew which, again, means still more berthing and what not.

      Adding CIWS? More space, more crew, more power, more ammo storage, etc.

      All of this is going to require more maintenance, more repair shops, more spare parts storage, etc.

      Hopefully, you see that just sprinkling weapons over any available deck space is completely unrealistic. As I said, this has been a great exercise in making more realistic assessments and coming up with better concepts.

      Thanks for you help with this!

    9. Concept: 'MRE' the box-launchers with towed-launcher-barges.

      In peace time, the barges stay in port, with the box-lunch stowed on land and safe-keep.

      Run up to war time, load up the box lunches and prepare to sail.

      Real war time, convoy (with towed (or self propelled) barges to just beyond the A2/AD zone. If China stands down, reverse the procedure.

      I'm still having trouble accepting the math of $2.6B subs shooting off $30M ($2M x 16) worth of Tomahawk, which is an one-off launch and could be nulled by 2x amount of anti-air missiles and repair facility and follow on ASW reprisal.

    10. CNO, My ego doesn't bruise easily. That said, I appreciate the feedback and the give and take.

      But, I think there is some utility in the EPF, or maybe the LCS, as a temporary special weapons platform.

      For starters, remove the armor from the ABL's, that ought to save a third or more in weight. After all, it's on a ship that is lightly armored itself. That would allow an EPF to launch a salvo of 24 missiles, instead of 16.

      A lightweight launcher, ideally reloadable, shouldn't be too difficult to field. A while back, there was a Russian company offering Club-S missiles firing out of a standard shipping container.

      The Navy talks about distributed lethality and a lightweight cruise missile launcher that can be mounted to almost any ship would help.

    11. "The Navy talks about distributed lethality and a lightweight cruise missile launcher that can be mounted to almost any ship would help."


      That would be the MK41 VLS, which comes in units as small as a single tube, but more typically eight cells.

      Do not fart bout with warships, put them in a commercial hull, likely a container ship. and call it done.


    12. What about an autonomous or remotely controlled ship of modest size carrying 32 to 64 VLS cells? DARPA's is developing an autonomous sub chaser through its ACTUV program.

      Why not scale it up to a platform that can launch a strike? Gone are the manning requirements, though the ship would designed to be crewed when necessary, say for entering and exiting port and maintenance at sea. Obviously, the ship would be designed to be refueled at sea.

      It would probably have a helicopter pad to transfer crew when needed with equipment to at least refuel a helicopter. It could be shaped to be stealthy to avoid detection like the Zumwalt class.

      In operation, they could operate by themselves or as part of a CSG or SAG. Being small in size they could approach land closer to strike targets further inland.

      I would approach this from a cost perspective and see what could be built for $100 to $150 million a copy.

    13. Walter, you're being exactly the kind of reader I like about this. You've offered a proposal and you're examining it to see if it's realistic. Great!

      The one remaining area that you haven't addressed is detectability/survivability which ties into a concept of operations. You mentioned penetrating to 800-900 miles. That's still 100-200 miles inside the Chinese A2/AD zone - and would probably need to be a bit closer to allow for waypoints as opposed to a straight line flight. So, probably need to penetrate 200-300 miles to launch. How does a non-stealthy, easily detected vessel with no AAW survive to reach its launch point? Considering the larger picture, that's why we have Burkes carrying Tomahawks - they can fight their way in to a launch point and have a chance of surviving to launch. These JHSVs would basically be floating targets!

      You also mentioned having a carrier between the JHSV and the enemy. If we could get a carrier in that position, we wouldn't need the JHSV and its 16 (or 24) missiles - the carrier's Burkes could launch their Tomahawks.

      Any thoughts?

    14. "What about an autonomous or remotely controlled ship of modest size carrying 32 to 64 VLS cells?

      It would probably have a helicopter pad ...

      It could be shaped to be stealthy to avoid detection like the Zumwalt class.

      Being small in size they could approach land closer to strike targets further inland.

      $100 to $150 million a copy."

      A helo deck to accommodate a standard H-60 helo would be about 70 feet long. A 32-64 VLS cell would require around 60 feet. Throw in a bridge for optional manning, refueling space, deck equipment, engine room (below the flight deck, presumably), comm gear, sensors (navigational radar at the very least), etc. and you're looking at a 150-170 ft vessel - not huge but not tiny, either. Again, the main question is survivability. Stealth is not magic. If found, it would be a defenseless, automatic sink.

      This is a poor man's version of an SSGN but without the inherent stealth and survivability of the sub and with only 25%-40% of the SSGN's missile load.

      It's an interesting idea but the mission could be accomplished much better with an SSGN. Of course, if we could build one of these for the $100M or so that you envision, it might be worthwhile. My guess is that such a vessel would cost $500M.

    15. While it might carry 25-40% missile load of a SSGN, it would do at a fraction (about 10%) of the cost of a SSGN. So what if you lose a few. How much do bombers and fighters cost?

    16. Whoa! You're being a bit cavalier about losing these. An SSGN would cost around $2.5B. If I'm right and the cost of these "little" vessels is $500M, that's 20% of the cost of an SSGN. In terms of loadout, you'd need five of these things (at 32 cells per) to equal the load of one SSGN. Five times $500M = $2.5B which is exactly the cost of an SSGN.

      Now consider the cost of the missiles. Each Tomahawk is around $2M so 32 missiles costs $64M. I'm not quite so casual about tossing away $64M worth of weapons along with a $500M vessel, as you appear to be!!

      Finally, there's inventory. Best estimates have us with a Tomahawk inventory of around 3000. Each 32 Tomahawk vessel that casually toss away represents 2% of an inventory that we can't easily and quickly replace.

    17. I know it's a play on numbers, but let's say these "little" vessels cost $150 million each and carry only 16 VLS cells. The loss of a few fully loaded ships would be more acceptable. For the cost of a single SSGN, using your numbers we could have a fleet of 16 "little" vessels that could launch an attack from multiple directions.

      Knowing there are a number of "little" shooters out there could also force an enemy to disperse their forces to better find these ships.

      Compared to the SSG suggested above, we could have 4 (maybe 5) "little" shooters for the cost of a single SSG.

    18. Your scenario assumes that the majority of these little shooters (sounds like a drink I had in the bar the other night!) can survive long enough to reach a launch point or can survive while cruising around to cause enemy forces to disperse. I keep asking, how will these defenseless ships survive long enough to reach their launch points. Cause, if they can't, it doesn't matter how cheap they are or how many missiles they carry or anything else.

    19. You used the term first.

      Maybe they are part of a CSG or SAG, then disperse and approach close enough to shore to launch their missiles. Then return to the protection of a CSG or SAG or they directly head back to friendly port.

      As for defensive weapons, I'd mount a single SeaRAM launcher. I'm not sure about defense against torpedoes. Though if it was fast enough, it maybe be possible to out run one.

    20. If they're part of a group then they'll be closely watched and the moment they separate they'll be fish food.

      I think this is one of those ideas that isn't bad but that has no viable concept of operations.

      Still, a worthwhile discussion. Thanks.

    21. At some point, I'm sure someone said the same about the airplane.

      We have unmanned aircraft that can fire, for the time being, short range missiles. And, as you well know, contemplated unmanned strike aircraft for our carrier fleet.

      I thinks it's only a matter of time before we have unmanned warships.

    22. I'm all for an unmanned warship but it has to be survivable to do its job. If it could submerge, it would be completely survivable but we already have that - it's the SSGN.

      Think about a way to make this thing survivable and able to penetrate 200-300 miles of an A2/AD zone and then you'll have a viable concept.

      Turn the concept around to test it. Would we be threatened by a non-stealthy (or semi-stealthy), defenseless, unmanned ship? Or, would our satellites, P-8s, AWACS, OTH radars, subs, ships, and aircraft see these coming a long way off and casually sink them before they could reach a point several hundred miles off our coast?

    23. What's your take on DARPA's unmanned sub chaser Sea Hunter?

    24. "What's your take on DARPA's unmanned sub chaser Sea Hunter?"

      This is possibly the most overhyped item to come out of DARPA. If full size, high power sonars on Burkes and long towed arrays and fleets of sonobuoy/dipping helos can't find and track enemy subs, how does anyone think a small unmanned vessel with a low power sonar (haven't seen any specs on it) and, apparently, no tail or sonobuoys, going to find and continuously track subs? That defies logic.

      Or, conversely, if the tiny sonar on the DARPA vessel is that miraculous, why aren't we engaged in a frantic program to fit it on all our ships?

      This is where sixty seconds of logical thought tells you what you need to know and that's what I try to provide to my readers - that calm, logical analysis unaffected by media hype.

      So, what do I think of it? It's probably extremely borderline in effectiveness (I'm being generous - it's not that good) but it might be useful for patrolling US harbors as part of a layered harbor defense or it might be useful in a navigational chokepoint where it would act like a long endurance, mobile sonobuoy.


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